Miami Dolphins historical free agency “traitors”

Players jumping ship from the Miami Dolphins to an AFC East rival can, and often does, cause incredible discomfort for fans who often the name of Wes Welker (traded to NE) in the process. The reality is that while few players go on to wreak havoc on the Miami Dolphins after they leave, fans are going to worry and be angry anyway. However, there’s always a ton of excitement when it goes the other direction – weakening a rival always feels good! The irony.

Since it’s that time of year again, and hot on the heels of Thomas Morestead (Jets) and Mike Gesicki (Patriots) doing the unthinkable, I thought it’d be fun to explore some other historical Miami Dolphins that left in free agency to join another AFC East team as well as how it went – and those who joined from a rival – rapid-fire style.

Sep 21, 2010; Green Bay, WI, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington (10) throws a pass during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Dolphins defeated the Packers 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Players

In this section, I’ll include five players that came directly from or went directly to an AFC East rival with the Miami Dolphins as one of those two stops on the offensive side of the ball.

  • Chad Pennington, QB, Jets > Dolphins: The 2008 season, outside of being a miraculous turnaround for the Miami Dolphins franchise, was also the year of Brett Favre playing for the Jets. That meant Chad Pennington needed a new team and found it in Miami. He’d go 11-5 as the starter and win AP Comeback Player of the Year. Pennington was ultimately replaced by Chad Henne, but not without winning a few games first.
  • Charles Clay, TE, Dolphins > Bills: Drafted as a FB in the 6th round of the 2011 draft, Clay would go on to play four seasons with the Dolphins before leaving in free agency to join the Buffalo Bills where he also played four seasons. Clay’s best season in terms of yardage came in his final season with Miami. Ultimately, he never created much of a stir as a TE for the ‘Phins rival, accumulating about the same amount of yardage and fewer touchdowns across the same amount of seasons for the Bills.
  • Frank Gore, RB, Dolphins > Bills > Jets: This one is fun just for the fact that he played 16 seasons as a running back which is absolutely unheard of. Gore’s final three seasons were all across the AFC East with no season better than the one he had in Miami.
  • Danny Amendola, WR, Patriots > Dolphins: Amendola would play just one season in Miami, accumulating just 575 yards receiving and one touchdown in the process at age 33. New England probably knew what they were losing when they let him walk away. He would play three more seasons in the NFL after leaving Miami.
  • Richie Incognito, OL, Bills > Dolphins: From age 27 through 30, Richie Incognito was a stalwart guard for the Miami Dolphins, outside of half the year in his final season with the team in 2013. Incognito leaving the team was predictable on the heels of the infamous bully scandal.

MIAMI – SEPTEMBER 26: Defensive end Jason Taylor #99 of the New York Jets celebrates a sack against his old team the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Miami, Florida. The Jets won 31-23. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Defensive Players

In this section, I’ll include five players that came directly from or went directly to an AFC East rival with the Miami Dolphins as one of those two stops on the defensive side of the ball.

  • Jason Taylor, DE, Dolphins > Jets > Dolphins: Not only was Jason Taylor once traded to Washington, but he also spent time with the New York Jets. Unbelievable. Lucky for Dolphins fans, he only spent a year with the Jets and really didn’t account for much if you’re box score watching. However, there was always the fear – especially against Miami – of what was possible from #99.
  • Shaq Lawson, DE, Bills > Dolphins > Jets: Lawson was a popular signing for the Miami Dolphins ahead of the 2020 season but it didn’t really amount to the huge signing many thought it would be. In just one season with the team, before being traded to Houston and then to the Jets in the same offseason, Lawson would account for just 32 tackles and 4 sacks in 14 games. In the two seasons since he was traded, Lawson has had 4.5 sacks and 54 total tackles.
  • Junior Seau, LB, Dolphins > Patriots: Seau’s career, spanning 20 seasons as a pro, lead him from San Diego to Miami before finding his way out of a very short (4-day) retirement onto the New England Patriots. While Seau didn’t win a Super Bowl with the Patriots, he did play in one during the 2007 undefeated season. He was an important part of their defense for the better part of four seasons and retired with his legend status even stronger.
  • Kyle Van Noy, LB, Patriots > Dolphins > Patriots: KVN would play just one season in Miami, the 2020 season in which the team improved to 10-6, before being (surprisingly) cut and re-joining the New England Patriots. His one season in Miami would endear him to fans with 6 sacks, 69 tackles, and 10 QB hits, helping turn the team around from a difficult 2019 season. His stats would remain about the same in 2021 for New England, proof that he wasn’t regressing just yet.
  • Jason McCourty, CB, Patriots > Dolphins: McCourty left New England ahead of the 2021 season at age 34 to play for Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins – leaving his twin brother behind. McCourty would only play in 7 games, with 4 starts, though he would provide veteran leadership to the team in what would be his final NFL season.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – DECEMBER 02: Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins on December 2, 2012 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

So, what’s the point for Miami Dolphins fans?

My point in digging into these players is to help fans – and myself – relax this offseason. Your favorite player signing with a division rival does not always equate to Wes Welker-esque production. Yes, I know he was traded, but the point still stands.

I’d like to know which of these players – or others – made you pause with concern upon hearing about their signing. Leave a comment below or chat with me on Twitter @GridironScott #FinsUp